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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 17 January, 2019
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With all this politics what hope does the banking inquiry have of finding out anything?

The government messed up in not ensuring it had a majority on the inquiry in the first place, but now its attempts to reverse this threaten to undermine the whole process of finding out what happened to the Irish banking system.

Government Buildings reflected in a fountain in front in the main courtyard.
Government Buildings reflected in a fountain in front in the main courtyard.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

EVEN BEFORE THE process of establishing it began there were questions being asked of what, if anything, the banking inquiry could achieve given that it’s been six years since it happened, the considerable amount that is already known and the various criminal prosecutions under way.

Could a group of politicians get to the bottom of why the government decided to issue a blanket guarantee of the Irish banking system in September 2008 where others, including the current Central Bank governor, have apparently failed?

Or have they failed? Isn’t the broad outline of what happened already known? That a credit-fuelled building boom caused banks to lend beyond their means, lax regulation meant they weren’t caught and when the bubble burst they brought the economy and the very sovereignty of the State down with them.

Politicians, ill-prepared and ill-advised, made a fatal decision to guarantee all assets and liabilities of those failed or failing financial institutions and plunged the State into an unsustainable debt position that would, two years later, force it into a Troika bailout. That’s roughly what happened, right?

Make them sweat

Well apparently politicians are going to find out more. They are going to grill former taoisigh, the regulators, the officials, the auditors and get to the bottom of all of this. Brian Cowen and many others will be hauled before public hearings, be made to sweat it out and answer tough questions.

That’s of course if the committee even manages to get the ball rolling at all.

The special Oireachtas Committee established to carry out the inquiry cannot even agree on its membership with the government having lost its majority on the committee after the opposition succeeded in adding two opposition senators to the nine-member panel which already consisted of seven TDs – four government and three opposition.

The coalition’s error in process of selecting the senators was simple. When it appointed the seven TDs it expressly named them in the formal motion that went before the Dáil.

Yet when it came to appointing two senators it left the matter up to the little-known and little-used Seanad Committee of Selection and, most importantly, the motion before the upper house did not specify the desire for one government and one independent senator.

This left the goal wide open for the opposition to do what it did and appoint two of its own – independent Seán Barrett (who the government can live with) and Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacsSharry (who the government cannot live with).

Politics, politics, politics

The government even had the opportunity to ensure it didn’t happen when it came to the selection committee.

Last week’s meeting of the Committee of Selection could have been adjourned by its chair, Fine Gael upper house leader Maurice Cummins, but it wasn’t despite the fact it was apparent that the government was missing a number of members that meant it would lose a vote.

The reasons for this are unclear and Cummins hasn’t returned calls.

Despite allowing this to happen – and not doing anything to stop it when it could have – the government now appears determined to reverse the decision and add its favoured candidate, the Labour senator Susan O’Keeffe, as a replacement for MacSharry.

All of this is politics and indicative of the government’s desire to control the committee. Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath, who understandably wants MacSharry and not O’Keeffe, said as much this morning and how right he is.

Why, if this is about finding out the facts of the banking collapse, does the government need to have control over a committee set up to establish these facts?

But perhaps more importantly, even if we accept the principle that it should have a majority what does it say about the government’s competence that it cannot even ensure this is the case?

All this has succeeded in doing is delaying the banking inquiry even getting under way – its first meeting was due to take place tomorrow but has now been postponed because there is no agreement on the membership. 

Many would say it’s already been delayed too long but many more might also say that if this is how it’s going to be run, what’s the point in carrying it out at all? 

Read: Here’s how the government could restore its majority on the banking inquiry

‘A dog’s dinner’: Banking inquiry could be delayed as government tries to sort out its own mess

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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